At a smaller Division I school like Marist College, it’s not difficult to put a name to the face of the many athletes competing for the school. After walking around campus for four years with their bright red backpacks and constant Marist Athletics apparel, these athletes have established themselves as just that — athletes. As they round the corner to graduation, the question remains: who are they outside of their sport?
The following story is a part of Center Field’s 19 for ‘19: Stories of the Senior Class series.
During his three-year career at Marist, shortstop Randy Taveras has a .310 batting average, .410 on base percentage, and 41 stolen bases.
Just please don’t tell Randy any of this.
“I think stats, especially batting average, are the devil,” the shortstop said. Randy has no clue, not even an estimate, of what his batting average was for the season (.305, at the time) or the number of stolen bases he had tallied (12). The avoidance of his statistics is a conscious decision to help maintain his philosophy while playing baseball.
“My goals are team-oriented,” Randy said. “If my batting average is something that I don’t like, I’m going to press myself and want to get a hit, instead of me focusing on getting on base for the team. I think when you look at stats, for me, you get self-centered.”
Randy said he plays “awful” when he is anxious, so being purposefully ignorant about his average is best for his own performance as well. “I play better when I move on when I am clear-minded.”
Whether he knows his numbers or not, his stats have placed him on the bubble to be a late-round pick in the upcoming MLB Draft. Baseball America ranked Randy fourth in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) in their list of top draft prospects before the start of the 2019 season. While playing in the New England Collegiate Baseball League (NECBL) this past summer, he was named the NECBL All-Star Game MVP. According to a press release from Marist Athletics, over 50 MLB scouts were at the all-star weekend event.
Randy is aware that getting drafted is not a sure thing. However, he is not overly concerned about what his future entails.
“I’m a big positivity guy,” Randy said. “I know, naturally, you get the negative thoughts here and there.”
But the Bronx native said that he tries his best to take his mind off the future and focus on the present season. “It depends on what the teams want,” Randy said. “My coach said ‘you can’t control the uncontrollable, you can’t control them signing you.’ I just look at it as a positive way. I am just playing baseball. I am trying to enjoy the last couple of weeks here and I have no regrets.”
Growing up with a Dominican father that was a top baseball prospect when he was Randy’s age, the decision to play baseball checks out. The first gift his parents bought him when he was a newborn baby was a baseball bat for his crib. “And since then I never let it go.”
What does not make sense, right away, is that he is a New York Mets fan. This fact is baffling for a couple of reasons. The most obvious one: he grew up in the Bronx. He played his youth baseball games at Van Cortlandt Park, which is a 13-minute drive to Yankee Stadium. Second, the Yankees had a number of Dominican-born stars when Randy was a child including Robinson Cano, Melky Cabrera, and Alex Rodriguez, who, just like Randy, is the son of Dominican immigrants. Third, what kid playing shortstop would not idolize Derek Jeter?
“There is a story,” Randy said, anticipating a follow-up question.
His father, Ramon Taveras, was a pitcher for the Dodgers organization. The highest level he reached was Double-A. Injuries stifled his career, and his last professional game was when he was 22-years-old.
During his time in the minor leagues, Ramon built tight bonds with fellow Dominican players in the Dodgers organization. “In the group that he was with, out of 11, eight became MLB players, six with 15-plus years in the league,” Randy said. Within Ramon’s friend group in the Dodgers organization was Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martinez.
As a young kid, Randy got to go inside the clubhouse of Major League teams when he and his father attended games. When going to these games, he would just root for the team that his father’s friend played for.
But when people would ask Randy what his favorite team was, he said the Mets. He did this to stay neutral. Randy’s godfather and close family friend Jose Offerman played for the Red Sox, while Ramon was a Yankee fan. Refusing to pick a side in the heated rivalry, Randy landed on the Mets.
However, as a kid he mainly grew up rooting for players, rather than a team. “If you are a Dominican, I would root for you. That’s just how our culture is, we all stick together.”
Throughout his baseball career, Randy has taken full advantage of his dad as a resource. Even though Ramon was a pitcher in the minor leagues, Randy said that his dad was a two-way player that could both hit and pitch.
“He always let me play. He wasn’t nitpicking every little thing. He let me play a lot. But whenever I need help, I go to him. To this day I go back home when I am struggling.”
Another mentor for Randy was his godfather Jose Offerman, a two-time MLB All-Star. He says that they talk nearly every day on the phone. Their conversations are not necessarily about baseball, but he was another resource that Randy could talk to.
The majority of his teammates growing up were Dominican, and that culture was infused into his teams growing up. “The scenery was very Dominican-like, it’s loud, it’s competitive. When you do something bad, you know. Even at a young age, it didn’t matter. It was always a lot of pressure.”
Randy then added, “I miss it a lot.”
In high school he played for a travel team called the Bronx Bombers. The team, which Randy now coaches summer camps for, is sponsored by donors and its mission is to help kids from urban areas in New York City afford to play travel baseball, and assist them in college admission testing prep to improve their odds for getting into college.
“If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be here. They allowed me to have those resources and I was fortunate enough to be with the program.”
Now on the other side of the program, he wants to help kids that are in a similar situation as he was. “I grew up with them. My dad is a coach there now. [I wanted] to stay with the program, they are kind of like family to me.”
Randy went from the Bronx to southeast Missouri to play junior college at Three Rivers Community College. He had initially thought he was going to play at Army, but then they told him they wanted to go play at prep school. “I decided to take a gamble,” the shortstop said.
Randy’s new setting was a culture shock for him at first, especially seeing Confederate flags attached to backs of cars. But once he started playing baseball for the school, he went back into his comfort zone.
Randy used that year to polish his skills. A major issue for him in high school was that he was very skinny and had difficulty hitting for power. He began to lift weights for the first time ever in college, and in turn, his power greatly improved.
After his year in Missouri, he got connected with Marist, who had interest in him when he was in high school.
Playing at Marist was everything that Randy ever wanted. It was his shot to show his ability to play at the Division I level. Going in with moderate expectations, it came as a surprise to him that he began the season as the team’s starting shortstop.
But after years of preparation to get to play at the Division I level, things didn’t go as well as he had hoped; his struggles got to the point where he felt like he may not have belonged. During the first half of the season, his batting average hovered around .170, consistently striking out multiple times per game. He was swinging at curveballs that he would usually not go after.
Randy would travel home to get advice from his dad. He would go to his coaches for help. “I tried everything,” Randy said. “It was rough. It was a couple of months where it was like, ‘I got to get out of here’ because I am not doing my thing.”
Then he finally got the advice that he needed. “One day my coach said out of frustration, ‘get your eyes to check,’” after Randy struck out. That glib comment from his coach was actually the key to overcoming his slump. Randy scheduled an appointment with an optometrist and he found out he was practically blind. “[I didn’t notice] until I couldn’t hit a curveball,” he said.
After his vision was restored, so was his hitting. He managed to climb his average up to .303 by the end of the season.
The team won the MAAC Championship that season, the program’s first since 2009. Beating Iona in the championship game was a great moment for Randy, even though he did not contribute much to that particular game. “It was the best 0-for-4 game of my life,” he said.
Randy had a strong showing during the NCAA tournament games. In the first game of the double-elimination tournament, against the eventual national champion Florida Gators, he went 2-for-4 with two RBIs, but the team lost 10-6. In the second game, in which Marist was eliminated by Bethune-Cookman, he went 3-for-4, including a homerun.
“You just felt the vibe that year,” Randy said. “We knew that we were going to win. We didn’t know how we were going to win, but we knew that we would.”
Now, Randy is looking to get an opportunity at the next level. “Last year it did [rattle me], it was the first time that I was ‘in the talks with scouts.’ After that is all done you get used to it. It is just one of those things where you have to stay positive, if you don’t, you might as well not do it.”
Once again, Randy’s vision isn’t perfectly clear. He is wrapping up the season not knowing if it will be his last season playing competitive baseball. But, for now, Randy is a Marist player looking to help his team capture their second MAAC title in the last three seasons. That is the only thing he has time to worry about.
“You just have to keep playing and hope that you get the call in June.”
Edited by the Center Field Editorial Team.
Header image by Kristin Flanigan.